Icy Mississippi River delaying barge traffic, commodities - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Icy Mississippi River delaying barge traffic, commodities

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Ice above Lock and Dam 11 in Dubuque is preventing barges from traveling upriver Ice above Lock and Dam 11 in Dubuque is preventing barges from traveling upriver

Barge traffic on the upper Mississippi River is now nearly a month behind normal schedule because of ice.

On Friday afternoon, the river in Dubuque below Lock and Dam 11 was thawed, but the river above the dam was still covered with a layer of ice.

Lock and Dam 11's lock chamber is now open for use, but no barge has yet ventured that far north to brave the frozen waters above the dam. Trying to break through a solid layer of ice could damage the vessels.

Steve Cavanaugh is fleet manager for Newt Marine in Dubuque, a company that offers fleeting, marine construction, dredging, dry docking, barge rentals, specialized towing and a terminal facility.

"If (the ice) is broke up, (barges) can get through it, but they don't want to be the first ones," Cavanaugh said. "They're not ice-breakers, you know. They're not made for that."

Sellers, transporters and buyers in the industry are all eager to get commodities moving upriver.

Jim Piper is lockmaster at Lock and Dam 11 and sees all interested parties chomping at the bit.

"Municipalities, because of the bad winter, are in great need of re-stocking their salt supplies. We have agricultural season starting up soon; farmers will be in the fields and they need their fertilizers," Piper listed. "The coal generating plants are almost exhausted of their coal supplies."

The US Army Corps of Engineers and professionals in the industry say barge traffic usually starts flowing during the first week in March.

"We've had bad winters in the past, but this has been colder, longer than any I can remember," Cavanaugh said.

While this delay creates a shipping challenge, some people say it won't be devastating in the long run.

"I don't know other people's businesses, but, for us, we'll be fine. We'll catch up," Cavanaugh said. "But it's going to be a struggle at first."

"I think (the barges are) going to be bumper-to-bumper until they get caught up, so once they start it's going to be very busy," Piper said.

Warm weather over the next few days could mean Lock and Dam 11 in Dubuque sees its first barge of the season early next week.

As of early Friday afternoon, the US Army Corps of Engineers said, the northern-most barge making its way up the Mississippi River was at Lock and Dam 14. That's in LeClaire, 85 milesdownriverr of Dubuque.

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